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spicy


Man cannot live on chickpeas alone. In their naked cooked state they can be a little unappetising. But they remain a healthy, cheap food.  Roasted in olive oil with a little salt and they become delicate and nuanced. Crispy on the outside and soft on the inside.  They make a great snack and a good sidekick for an evening aperitif. Babies love to munch on them too!

 

This couscous dish stands well alone or as a hot or cold accompaniment to fish or meat.

Ingredients

  • 1 can cooked chickpeas
  • 3 tablespoons of olive oil
  • 1 cup couscous (uncooked measure)
  • 2 tablespoons golden sultanas
  • a handful of fresh vine tomatoes
  • salt and pepper to taste
  • handful of chopped fresh basil

Plus 1 quantity spice mix (see below)

Spice mix (vary as desired) also see a previous post using a spice mix…

  • 1 teaspoon white pepper
  • 1/2 teaspoon ground cumin
  • 1 teaspoon ground all spice
  • 1/2 teaspoon cinnamon
  • 1 tablespoon walnut oil
  • 2 tablespoons olive oil
  • a little sea salt

Preheat the oven to 350f.  If using canned chickpeas rinse them well in cold water and drain in a colander. In the meantime, using a bowl big enough to handle the chickpeas, make the spice mix blending the ingredients together with the oils. Coat the chickpeas with the spice mix and let sit for a few minutes.  Spread the coated chickpeas evenly in a single layer on a roasting pan shaking them around a little to make sure the spice mix is well distributed. Sprinkle a little salt over them. Roast for 20-25 minutes until the skins start to become papery and dry.

While waiting for the chickpeas make the couscous – follow the instructions on your particular brand of couscous!  While you wait for the couscous to fluff up, set it aside.

For the tomatoes, plonk them a in a bowl of boiling water for a minute, then plonk them in a bowl of cold water for a minute. You will then be able to drain them and easily remove the skins. (This works well for peaches too). Cut the tomatoes into quarters or halves depending on their size and set aside.  Submerge the sultanas in a little warm water for a few minutes too. Then drain them and set them aside. This will plump them up nicely.

Once the chickpeas are roasted to your liking take them out of the oven and allow to cool a little so they don’t break apart too much when handled. Then assemble your dish. In a serving dish mix the warm couscous with a little butter, add the chickpeas, the sultanas and the tomatoes. Sprinkle with some torn up fresh basil and serve warm or cold.

 

While spending a couple of days recently in The Hunter Valley, one of Australia’s wine regions, I couldn’t help but wonder why on earth Dukka was served everywhere.  Each restaurant seemed to offer a starter of sourdough and dukka (or dukkah)…and always at a price too. It’s not something you come across in Paris ever really and so I was intrigued as ever on the look out for an alternate apero.

Of Egyptian origin, Dukka is usually a spice and nut blend with hazelnuts, chickpeas and thyme as a base but combinations vary wildly and some dukkas boast macadamia nuts as their dominant flavour while with others it’s sesame that takes the lead.  It’s like the crumbly love child of zaatar and gomasio with a twist of roasted nuts. Fabulously fragrant, it’s very easy and another way to spice up an evening glass of wine. With a little scrutiny and some internet research, the contents of a dukka bowl are not hard to figure out. Invent a blend that suits you.

The ingredients, for the most part, are likely to be sitting around many a kitchen. Dukka could also be used to season meats or as a sprinkling for salads, soups, roasted vegetables….

Serve with olive oil and balsamic vinegar for dipping with some warm flatbreads.

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Ingredients (this is a list of options that can be played around with; leave out what you don’t like or add things like dessicated coconut)

2 tablespoons whole hazelnuts
1 1/2 tablespoons sesame seeds
1 teaspoon fresh thyme leaves
1/2 teaspoon fine sea salt

1/4 cup Macadamia or Brazil nuts
2 tablespoons sunflower or pumpkin seeds
1/4 cup coriander seeds
2 tablespoons cumin seeds
1/2 teaspoon ground cumin
1/4 teaspoon pepper
1/4 teaspoon cinnamon
1 pinch cayenne pepper

Making

Roast the hazelnuts until the skins can be rubbed off. Then toast the other seeds and nuts. Toast  them on a dry hot pan for very little time; just until they start to dance around a little. Using a pestle and mortar roughly grind them until the nuts and seeds are broken up but not too finely otherwise the nuts will become too oily. This is a dry crumbly nut mix.

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Paris. The tenth arrondissement – foodies beware….The rue Faubourg Saint Denis holds a few off-beat treasures.  From Julhes with their cheeses, exotic mustards, gourmet deli and never ending wine tastings to the coffee bean man just up the street  (Brulerie Lanni) and his giant roasting machine passing by the Passage Brady and the Kurdish sandwiches, you could spend hours here snacking and discovering.

On a recent wander hunting cardamom pods and other random pantry staples, I picked up some lemon grass powder in the Passage Brady.  A key ingredient of Thai, Malay, Vietnamese and Chinese cuisine this pale green grassy  powder has a long history and is potent, lemony, sweet and tart in your nose.

Here’s a basic flour-less chocolate cake with a playful side. Use agave instead of sugar for a more healthful cake and a different kind of sweetness.

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The basil plant on the window-sill is inviting, demanding to be added to everything. I figure a solid chocolate cake can be played with, dark chocolate can always take a little flavouring. I recently had sesame chocolate and Darjeeling tea flavoured chocolate. Amazing. Especially the sesame. To be exploited in an upcoming dessert recipe – tea, dark chocolate and sesame…

Flourless chocolate cake with lemongrass and fresh basil

Ingredients

125 gr good quality dark chocolate
100 gr unsalted butter and some for greasing
half teaspoon salt
150 gr sugar – or 1 cup agave syrup
1 cup finely chopped fresh basil leaves
3 eggs50gr cocoa powder
1 generous  teaspoon of ground lemon grass powder (available in good spice stores or Asian good stores)

Making

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Pre heat the oven to 180 c. Line and grease a cake tin. (about 8 inches – not too big or you’ll have a rather flat cake!)

Melt the chocolate and the butter over hot water stirring constantly until smooth. Add the salt and set aside.

Beat the diced basil into the sugar and add this to the chocolate mixture.  Add the eggs one at a time mixing constantly.  Then  fold in the cocoa powder slowly mixing until smooth. Stir in the teaspoon of lemon grass powder at the end.

Pour the batter into the tin and bake for about 20 minutes then turn out onto a rack to cool. Serve warm with a sprig of fresh basil.

In 1972, after coming to power via a coup the year before, Idi Amin decided to expel Asians  from Uganda and repossess their property.  Those lucky enough to have the right to get the necessary papers to go to England, after having come to Uganda under British imperial rule, ended up facing life as exotic strangers in a new country that perhaps did not live up to expectation. Already the fact that there was a sizable population of people of Indian heritage and origin living in Uganda hints at the potential complexities of the culinary history of the region.

We have entered the era of  the  foodoir – the  combination of memoirs and recipes, a term I only just spotted in the latest review of food books by The New York Times, is fast becoming a literary staple of sorts and there are any amount of them out there often the result of a successful blog or a wonderfully international childhood. They’re more often then not a good read as well as a source of quirky recipes and a little food history.

The Settler’s Cookbook was written by Yasmin Alibhai-Brown. Born in Uganda in the fifties, the author refers many times in the book to her memories of the country as lush, green and “openly sensuous” bringing back to me my own memories of a brief visit to southern Uganda a few years ago for a weekend on a lake in a small eco-lodge where we were served “Irish potatoes” and roast chicken and the people were as open as the endless colourful flowers around us.  It reminds me too, why it is important to always be ready to go to the ends of the earth if only for the weekend. It’s always worth it, it feels like a lifetime and what you learn in that weekend will remain with you.

This book is much more then a foodoir; it’s a great snapshot of a woman’s life, her perceptions, her life as a Wahindi growing up in the sixties and seventies in Uganda, obliged to go and live in the UK in the seventies and the realities of being a young Asian in Thatcherite England. Interspersed with stories of her family, a candid account of her marriage, its breakdown and her career are her family recipes – often written in such a way as to make it clear as to what kind of mood one may be in when one would tackle a particular dish. the ingredients range from the curious to the exotic to the ordinary.  Each one seems to be the result of an incident be it international or familial and the anecdotes surrounding them are often inextricably linked to the food eaten at the time.

Many recipes reveal the influence of the British over their colonies and the resulting dishes that often led to a Victoria sponge enlivened with saffron and lime juice or the promise of a Cadbury’s chocolate bar after school. The insipid nature of British cooking fascinated many of those  who came into contact with it in Uganda and so these personalized recipes themselves reveal a lot about the imbalances of relationships between the nation that was still seen as imperial and superior, the Asian merchant class and the Ugandans themselves.

What I’m most curious about is getting my hands on a copy of St. Andrew’s Church Woman’s Guild. The Kenya Settlers’ Cookery Book and Household Guide (Nairobi, 1928). Mentioned in The Settler’s Cookbook as being of use during their home economics classes at school where the girls  learned how to cook British food that to them tasted like “milky newspaper”, there apparently was an intriguing back page of “useful Swahili phrases” such as how to say “You have stolen the sugar” and ” You are free every day from 2 to 4…” which is wonderfully revealing and I’m off now to search for more colonial cookbooks….

Mustard seeds and white pepper. Root vegetables, topinambour, parsnip, potato, pumpkin, carrot, white radish…..

For future reference and restaurant translations – topinambour is a Jerusalem artichoke. Who knew?

But here it’s the white pepper that deserves a little attention. Not much used it would seem perhaps because it is thought it is just the bland cousin of the black peppercorn. Not so. Check it out. White pepper is pungent to the point that it reminds some of cow manure. Sorry. But think about it. Nostalgia pushes me to keep it in the pantry. My paternal grandmother kept it on the kitchen table for every meal time it seemed. The white powder made me sneeze and reinforced my already strong addiction to mashed turnip and green cabbage, the staples she presented us with most times dusted with white pepper and mashed with butter.

They’re only vegetables, they’re banal, they’re rooty, they’re brute and earthy and don’t cost very much but behind their seemingly ordinary demeanor lies bowls of warming chunks spiked with just a few simple flavours some of which will have been lying around your kitchen forgotten.

Slowly braised vegetables in brown mustard seeds and white pepper

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Ingredients

1 teaspoon brown mustard seeds
1 teaspoon white pepper, turmeric
1 stock cube preferably msg free and low in salt


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Choose your vegetables - use  sweet potato, plain potato, pumpkin, cabbage, white radish, kale,red cabbage, onions, whatever you have. Chop into rough chunks. If using potato finely slice them so they can cook easily. You’ll need a wide deep pan if you have a lot of veg.
Making

First allow a little oil or butter to heat. I use nut oil with a little butter. Toast 1 teaspoon of brown mustard seeds and add a good half teaspoon of white pepper – seasoning your pan. Slowly add the vegetables in no particular order.  Keep the heat high for a couple of minutes and toss everything around letting them coat in the oily spices. Add a teaspoon of  turmeric to the mix.

If you have one on hand dissolve a stock cube in a little hot water – preferably one free of MSG and too much salt. Add this to the pan.
Let the veg absorb a little of the stock then add 2 cups of cold water. Bring to the boil then lower the heat and let simmer until much of the water has been absorbed. No need to boil the vegetables to death, keep a little bite, don’t let anything get mushy.

The result is a chunky veggie dish great as a side or alone and the white pepper really stands out…

Seeking out spices in Paris.

Using spices in cooking can evoke travel, soothe stress and bring back memories. Spices have a long and intricate history so whether you’re grinding fresh nutmeg or measuring a hot curry powder, pause and consider how you’re dealing with a small piece of cultural, economic and culinary history packed tightly into a small jar or a paper bag.

They have been an integral part of cooking for centuries.  Outside of the kitchen, we have been perfuming ourselves for centuries and various plants, seeds and spice extracts find their way into exotic blends assumed to make us more attractive to the opposite sex, more palatable to the general public and more tolerable on public transport.  Smell can make or break a relationship and these days  fruit, flower and vegetable combine with ancient spice blends  to make scents that sound more like a good meal or marinade then a cosmetic aid.

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Unfortunately a good hot curry is still difficult to come by. Although if you head to a small primarily Sri Lankan enclave near Stalingrad in the tenth arrondissement you can find some good cheap meals that while not bringing quite a tear to your eye, will sate the average anglophone curry craving.
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Spice merchandising has been an important part of international commerce since Greco-Roman times via the Silk Road, the incense routes of Asia and China, through Venice from the east not to mention North African and Moorish influence finding their way up into Spain and the rest of Europe.  Some curious culinary legacies have found their way into some of the most traditional Spanish and Italian dishes.  From the Greeks (who probably introduced saffron) to the Omayyad Arabs in the 8th century to the Turkish Ottomans in the twelfth, outside influence in culture and cooking is still apparent  in Spanish and particularly Sicilian and Venetian cuisine today.  However, many crops and foodstuffs are thought to have come from the New World and so the extent to which the Arabs influenced Sicilian cuisine is often under dispute.

Catching the back of your throat, your nose, escaping from your skin the next day, a good spice blend can change everything and often has a role to play in cultural traditions, celebrations or simply from a health point of view.

While the French are generally wary of anything trop épicé, and are not the world’s greatest fans of hot food, you can still find an abundance of blends of herbs and spices from all over the world in several Parisian neighborhoods.

Useful addresses should you find yourself spice shopping in Paris:

  • Izrael - l’épicerie du monde, 30, rue François-Miron in the Marais (good supplies of smokey paprika)
  • L’épicierie de Bruno, 30 Rue Tiquetonne, 75002 Paris
  • G. Detou, 58 rue Tiquetonne, 75002
  • L’épicerie Hératchian Frères on Rue Lamartine, 75009
  • Goumanyat on Rue 3 rue Charles-Francois Dupuis, 75003 (particularly for salt and saffron)
  • Ahga M’ Bark, 21 rue Montorgueil,75001
  • Passage Brady, Rue Faubourg Saint Denis, 75010 – Indian grocery store carrying well-priced general curry spices, grains, rices, teas and other Asian ingredients
  • To sample a contemporary luxury apothecary of constantly surprising blends of all kinds of delicious elements head to Jo Malone.

Pumpkin and lamb curry served in a pumpkin bowl. Pumpkins make great bowls.

They just take a lot of wrist work to empty. Sharpen your knives and dig in. Carefully.

In the same way as small children like to grab shiny round things that come in bright colours, I too cannot resist pumpkins. They’re just so satisfying to look at. This is pumpkin month, Halloween approaches and although it’s a rather discreet and misunderstood holiday in this neck of the woods, it doesn’t mean that we can’t think of dinnering ideas that involve these masses of autumn bounty. They’re all over the morning markets but you have to seize them quickly, the ones that can be carved into mysterious and terrifying objects go fast not to mention the ones that were obviously destined to provide crockery to people who might need some in which to serve that nights dinner…… Lamb and pumpkin curry – served in its own pumpkin bowl seemed like the perfect Sunday night supper. The recipe is simple and can be either veggie or not. Makes not a lot of difference. Well, unless you’re the lamb in question or a vegetarian. Then it does indeed make quite a bit of difference. Add other things, take them away, use coconut milk and green curry paste for an entirely more fragrant and less rich affair…

This may well just be the beginning of an array of ‘Things to fill pumpkin bowls with’…
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Ingredients

1 teaspoon mustard seeds
4 or 5 lamb chops or gigots (optional)
1 onion, finely chopped
1 clove garlic, finely chopped
3 tablespoons of hot curry paste (garam masala)
1 aubergine, cubed
1 sweet potato, semi-roasted
flesh of 4 small pumpkins, roasted
1 teaspoon turmeric
3 cups water
a handful of fresh spinach leaves

Making

Preheat the oven. The pumpkin will need to roast for about 45 minutes before you start making the curry so plan in advance. Removing the flesh from the pumpkin well in advance makes life a lot easier. Carefully remove the tops, cut into the flesh to get at the seeds, scoop, dig, tear, do whatever you have to to get the seeds out.

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Discard the seeds or set them aside for toasting later. Then start scooping out the pumpkin flesh. Have ready a roasting dish in which to roast the pumpkin and the sweet potato. Set the pumpkin bowls aside with their ‘lids’, rinse out any extra scraps of seed or flesh and pat dry. Put the pumpkin flesh in the oven with the sweet potato for at least 40 minutes. Then remove as much of the lamb as you can from the bone. In a hot pan quickly sear the lamb on both sides to seal in the juices, then remove from the pan and set aside. Add the onions to the hot pan with the garlic and the mustard seeds. Let soften for a few minutes before adding the aubergine. When the aubergine is soft add the meat, the roasted pumpkin and sweet potato. The sweet potato need only be partially cooked. Stir well for a few minutes, then add the curry paste. Stir well and add the water. Bring to the boil and then simmer for about an hour on a low heat. Just before serving add the fresh spinach leaves. They’ll wilt only slightly and add a splash of green to the comforting caramel toffee texture of this warming spicy stew.

Spoon into the four pumpkins and serve with the lids on!DSC_0540

DSC_1058Socca on the Côte d’Azur, Farinata on the Ligurian coast, and something fast to do with the chickpea flour in the kitchen…..It had escaped my attention for so long, chickpeas have a certain quality and their flour a certain flavour (falafel anyone?) and so I wanted to do something with it. I tried making empanadas once with it and failed miserably. Crumbly empanadas just don’t really work, on any level. I forgot how difficult it can be to bake with only a gluten free flour. Inspired by a New York times article on socca and flatbreads, I decided to go more for an Indian take and left out the olive oil. These spicy crepes have become a constant evening meal. Chickpea flour is also a staple in Indian snacks and desserts, known more commonly as besan or garam flour. There are so many other fun recipes and ways to use it in both sweet and savoury dishes so this is but a first post where chickpea flour takes the lead role.
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The trick with the Ligurian farinata and the socca is the olive oil in the mix. A good olive oil. Then it’s served hot with lots of black pepper. Amazing.

These pancakes are more simple and the focus is on the spices and the coriander.

A tablespoon or two of pouring cream or plain yoghurt in the batter is a nice way to add a little flavour.

Ingredients (makes about 3 to 4 decent sized crepes, adjust as necessary)

2 cups of chickpea flour
1 teaspoon cumin
1 teaspoon turmeric
1 teaspoon hot curry powder
some chopped fresh coriander

1-2 cups water – use enough to make a smooth batter

Optional – a little fresh pouring cream or plain or Greek yoghurt – just to be crazy.

Note – experiment with different spices.
Also add some chopped banana instead of the spices with a tablespoon of raw cane sugar to make a great breakfast pancake

Making

In a bowl mix the flour and spices, then slowly add the water stirring well as it forms a paste. Continue to add a little more water as you mix, add the coriander and keep stirring until you have a smooth batter. Add the cream if using.

Set aside or refrigerate for about 30 minutes.

Heat a pan with a little oil and or butter. When very hot put a tiny spoon of the batter onto the hot pan and let it spread. This is your pan tester! As the golden rule and sacred saying of pancake making says – the first one is always a disaster but it sets up your pan for the rest!

So, use this first dollop to soak up the extra oil in your pan and then scrape it off. Now your pan is ready.

Chickpea flour is a pain to bake with, no gluten and while it’s great for pancakes, it can take more cooking time to form a strong pancake. So pour a decent dollop of the batter on the pan and spread around, keep the heat fairly high. then let it sit for a while…when the batter starts to bubble see if you can flip it easily, then do the other side.

Serve immediately – alone or with a curry, with some yoghurt, in pieces as aperitif or…..

DSC_1018The lentil, a super food. With maybe less then a glamorous reputation. The lentil suffers often from a reputation as being only suitable for vegans who have no choice but to survive on pulses and grains. Think again. As mentioned last week, a recent trip to Syria was a fantastic food experience and in one particular restaurant, Naranj at the Bab Sharqi, they served a cold lentil mezze that was really amazing and I still think about it. It was cold with coriander, caramelized onions, a lot of garlic and maybe saffron… I had to go back and order it again. Anyway, easy enough to recreate a version of it but I don’t think I could ever capture the taste.

Contrary to popular belief, (particularly in France), lentils don’t need to be cooked to death. This is really a very important point. Overcooking is probably why so many people are put off eating lentils. There is an assumption that they take hours to cook and in the end are just a gooey mushy dark mess. It is not so. 10-15 minutes of simmering will render your red or yellow lentils crunchy and perfect. Some brands and varieties need longer and making a lentil soup requires more cooking time but otherwise don’t allow them to just sit there stewing. This is a fast filling alternative to a bowl of pasta and is full of iron and fiber and all kinds of ridiculous scientifically proven health benefits which won’t get detailed here. Suffice to say they can take on all kinds of great flavours eaten as a salad or still hot.

These spicy lentils absorb the spices well and have roughly the same cooking time as quinoa so often I add a cup to the mix too.

Ingredients

1 teaspoon each of the following:
turmeric
hot curry powder
cumin powder


half a teaspoon:
brown mustard seeds
cinnamon
butter
white pepper

1 clove garlic crushed
1 inch root ginger chopped finely
some fresh coriander
handful of raisins
1 cup yellow lentils

Greek yogurt – enough for one serving or as you wish
1 cup Quinoa (optional)

Making

Heat some oil in a pan until very hot and throw in the garlic, onion and ginger. Toss for a few seconds then immediately turn down the heat. Add the different spices one at a time stirring quickly so nothing burns. Add the raisins and the butter. To the paste add your lentils still stirring. Let the lentils absorb some of the spicy paste. The quinoa could be added here too.

Add 2 cups of cold water and bring to the boil. Then turn down heat to quite low and simmer for no longer then 15 minutes. The water should be more or less absorbed by the lentils.

Serve hot with fresh coriander and a dollop of Greek yogurt.

Lemon grass, ginger and garlic are the backbone of endless noodles dishes. This is no different and certainly not particularly innovative. But it’s a good way to make something good out of very little in very little time. Chunks of smoked tofu would be good here too. But slivers of smoked duck breast are a great way to liven up a dish like this and add a little touch of the gourmet to an otherwise far too healthy dish! Always, always keep to hand some fresh ginger and garlic. They can make anything stand up. The duck pieces only go in at the end as you’re about to eat, otherwise they dry out.

Not much to explain here – really it’s just a way of dealing with smoked duck slices or tofu for a fast and simple supper.
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Ingredients

6-8 thin slices of smoked duck
150gr soft tofu
1 inch lemon grass
1 small red chilli
1 inch fresh root ginger
1 clove garlic, crushed
500gr rice noodles, udon noodles or whatever you can find

1 red pepper
fresh coriander

2 tablespoons maple syrup
soy sauce to flavour
1 egg

chilis

Making

Heat a pan and a little oil ( sesame oil or a nut oil would be good). Finely slice the pepper and toss in the hot oil.

Crush the ginger, garlic and the lemon grass into a rough paste and finely chop the chili. Add the tofu to the peppers in the pan and stir quickly lowering the heat until it “scrambles” a little. Try not to let it stick. Add the maple syrup and a little soy sauce. Add the lemon grass garlic mixture and lower the heat. If it’s very hot and sticking too much, add a little water.

Cook your noodles, rinse them in cold water to stop them cooking and also remove a little of that strange “stuff” that magically appears (I only dread to think what it means..)and set aside. Take the tofu mix of the heat and beat the egg. Pour over the hot pan making a very skinny omelet. Set this aside to cool.

Turn off the heat on everything. Toss the noodles around in the tofu sauce and the duck pieces. Slice up your “mini-omelet” and sprinkle on top. Serve immediately with some fresh coriander and a little soy sauce to taste.